No Fixed Address: More immigrants 'fleeing to the suburbs' as Toronto housing prices keep rising

Just over half of the immigrant population in the Toronto census metropolitan area was living in a municipality peripheral to Toronto in 2011, up from 40 per cent a decade earlier, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

Immigrants opting for suburbs instead of downtown core, Statistics Canada report shows

Bassam Mansoob and his wife Shafa Siddiqui moved to Canada a year ago and have settled in the suburbs. (Submitted: Bassam Mansoob)

After Bassam Mansoob moved to Canada from Australia a year ago, he started hunting for a house in the GTA.

The high prices of both housing and insurance in Toronto were a "cultural shock," says the 32-year-old software engineer, who works downtown in Liberty Village.

Even homes as far west as Burlington were too pricey, he says. So, despite the lengthy commute, Mansoob and his family — including his wife and five-month-old daughter — wound up settling in Stoney Creek, a suburban community in Hamilton. 

The decision was mostly about affordability, Mansoob says. 

"I can't afford to spend that much living closer to the city, paying that much in insurance, property tax and whatnot," he told CBC Toronto.

And he's far from the only immigrant opting for the suburbs, rather than the core.

A new Statistics Canada study released on Monday shows the number of immigrants moving to the suburbs around Toronto, instead of settling downtown, is rising. And many experts say the high rent and housing prices in Toronto, where the average home now costs nearly $921,000, could be a big part of the shift.

Immigrant population living in suburbs up 10 per cent

More than half of the immigrant population in the Toronto census metropolitan area — which includes surrounding communities like Brampton, Oakville, Milton, Vaughan, Pickering and Ajax — was living in a municipality peripheral to Toronto in 2011, up from 40 per cent a decade earlier, according to the paper from Mireille Vézina and René Houle.

"Immigrants tend to move more and more to peripheral municipalities and new immigrants, even, tend to settle directly in peripheral municipalities, whereas in the past, immigrants tended to land in the core city centres like Toronto," said Houle. "The pattern is changing rapidly."

The average Toronto house price jumped to $921,000 in April despite a spike in listings. (CBC)

It's a similar scene in Vancouver and Montreal, something the researchers call the "suburbanization of immigrants," but the researchers say Toronto has seen the sharpest rise.

The trend makes sense to Harshal Dalal, who originally hails from India, moved to Canada in 2010, and wound up settling down in Oakville with his wife and two daughters.

"I think just the cost of housing in the city is much more, and that should be no surprise to anyone," he says. "You can get much more for your buck than you would get in Toronto."

People 'fleeing to the suburbs'

Houle, as well, speculates housing costs are playing a role in the trend — a sentiment echoed by housing and immigration experts.

"I'm sure money is part of it," says Graham Haines, research and policy manager with the Ryerson City Building Institute. "Living in Toronto — living close to Toronto — is becoming more and more expensive."

"As that cost increases, people are fleeing to the suburbs for cheaper rents and mortgages," echoes Margaret Eaton, executive director of Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Both say municipalities throughout Halton, York and Durham regions — all hot real estate markets as well, where house prices have spiked in spots like Oshawa and Oakville in recent years — need to prepare for the ongoing influx of immigrants.

Surburban communities need to "build in the services immigrants are looking for, the opportunities to set up new business," Haines explains.

Eaton says those kinds of supports are crucial, particularly since immigrants tend to struggle to get jobs that match their education and experience, and also face a higher unemployment rate than the general population.

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"I worry that as we push immigrants out to the farther reaches of the city, and they still have to either own a car to get to work or spend hours on transit, that we just create further inequality and reduce opportunities for people," she says.

Like so many GTA residents — both immigrants and born-and-raised Canadians alike — Mansoob is now living that reality: Priced out of Toronto, and facing a lengthy daily commute. 

"If it was possible to live closer to the main city downtown, I would've done that," Mansoob says.